Are you protecting your employees from work-related stress?

Keeping your staff safe and well

Stress and mental health at work are significant issues in most industries; the latest statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) suggest that work-related stress is on the increase:Lone stressed construction worker

  • * 595,000 workers across Great Britain reported experiencing work-related stress, anxiety or depression.
  • * This equates to 57% of all working days lost to ill health being due to work-related stress, or around 15.4 million days.
  • * Even conservative estimates put the cost to the British economy at over £5 billion per year.

Defining stress 

There are many definitions for ‘stress’, but HSE defines it as ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them’.

This definition distinguishes between ‘pressure’, which can motivate us, and ‘stress’ which occurs when that pressure becomes excessive and happens over a sustained period, with no time to recover. Stress – when left unaddressed – can lead to serious mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, or physical health conditions, including stroke, diabetes, heart conditions and obesity.

Wellbeing industry focused on ‘coping’

Today, there is a growing industry of ‘wellbeing strategies’ which focus on training for managing resilience and mindfulness, or promoting general health measures (healthy eating, exercise, smoking cessation, yoga). These are designed to help individuals and, whilst they can be effective, they often come into play after someone has become affected by stress. These strategies won’t stop others from becoming stressed and don’t tackle the root cause – if you put people back into the same environment without addressing the causes of workplace stress, they are likely to continue to suffer from, or develop further stress.

Preventing stress by 'designing stressors out' of jobs, or by early intervention, are the most effective means of tackling it. Integrating conversations around stress and mental health into regular meetings is one way of monitoring the issue. Remember, if someone is having problems, even if not caused by work, early support or offering some short-term flexibility, could protect their health and wellbeing, and keep them in work. Giving people the opportunity to talk about issues can be a great way to alleviate those problems and reduce stigma.

It is also important to note that anyone can be affected by stress. Making the workplace a safe environment to talk about stress and mental health will benefit both employees and the organisation in the long term.

As an employer, why should I act to tackle work-related stress?

There are three key reasons:

  • - keeping your most important resource – your staff – safe and well
  • - the benefits in cost savings and improved productivity
  • - you have a legal duty to do so, under health and safety legislation

You may also need to take some action if someone is identified as ‘disabled’ under the Equality Act 2010. Stressors can have additional impact on people with mental health conditions, by either bringing on episodes of ill health or making such episodes worse. As an employer you may be obliged to make some reasonable adjustments to accommodate your workers.

So, where do I start?

HSE has, in collaboration with academics and industry, identified six factors – demands, control, relationships, support, role and change – that if not managed properly, can lead to stress.

The first thing you need to identify is whether you actually have a problem with workplace stress within your organisation – and the easiest way to find out is to ask your employees.

Here are some practical tips for taking this important first step, depending upon the size of your organisation:

  • * For a smaller organisation, it’s important to talk to your staff – HSE, as part of its Go Home Healthy campaign, has developed a ‘Talking Toolkit’ to help you frame these conversations.
  • * Larger organisations can also make use of the Talking Toolkit, either to conduct team meetings to raise the awareness of work-related stress and mental health conditions, or as a basis for individual risk assessments or return to work interviews, where stress or mental health has been an issue.
  • * Raising awareness of stress and its causes is also important, and HSE has developed a series of posters that businesses can use in the workplace.
  • * For larger organisations, HSE has developed the Management Standards approach – a process to help conduct a risk assessment, identify potential stressors and begin the process of developing a solution.

But that’s just part of the process – if you identify an issue, you must take reasonable steps to remove or reduce the risk. Some tips on doing this can be found in Appendix 6 (p47) of the HSE publication – Tackling work-related stress using the Management Standards approach - A step-by-step workbook 

HSE is working to reduce work-related stress through communications, collaborative partnership working and its regulatory role. HSE provides advice, guidance and tools on its website, designed to help employers develop an appropriate and proportionate approach to assessing and tackling work-related stress that may be impacting on their workers.

See also:

HSE health and safety statistics 2018

Would you recognise work addiction?

You may also be interested in:

HSE: Work-related stress depression or anxiety statistics in Great Britain 2018

Image: Getty Images